Changes in American Television

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David Miller
Creative Fundraising
Think Piece – Changes in the Television Industry

Introduction
Television has been around long enough that it has undergone many radical changes, but as with many other prominent industries, it had its humble beginnings. While the actual physical set was invented decades before, the industry itself did not really begin until the 1950’s. This is when the television set first became a commercial product that anyone could own, just like the radio, and when the original three networks opened up shop. The Central Broadcasting System (CBS), National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and American Broadcasting Company (ABC) provided their black and white programming over airwaves, being received by the sets at home via antenna (“bunny ears”). These networks were all primarily based in New York City, filming most of their original content there as well in their studios.

Fast-forward twenty years and massive change has already come to the industry. Over half of all households have at least one television set at this point, programming in color is much more of a staple, other smaller networks have entered into the fray, and, most importantly, viewing was being made available via coaxial cable wire rather than just antenna. However, what would occur over the next decade would change the landscape of the business forever.

In the beginning, the networks were also the major distributors of their product. They created and/or broadcasted their content. However, as television was becoming more cable based, the networks were losing their hold on their ability to distribute. They simply did not have the manpower and money to both produce programming as well as lay down thousands upon thousands of miles of cable across the country. Companies specifically responsible for distribution started gaining traction. As cable became entwined into the national fabric and spread out west, so did these increasingly powerful distributors, opening up headquarters to cities like Los Angeles and Denver, which would become the cable company capital of the United States.

Along with the massive project of giving all corners of the country access to cable television, there was a massive technological leap in the amount of bandwidth a network would take up on a cable. This allowed many more channels to be sent through one coaxial cable and with distribution now pretty much out of the hands of the original major networks, new smaller specifically cable networks had an opportunity to join the market. Television went from only a few channels in the 1970’s to dozens and dozens of channels in the 80’s and by the 90’s, there were hundreds.

Recent Changes
Now, most households not only have one television, but multiple, with cable being the primary way to view original and live content. Antenna, at this point, has been almost entirely phased out of the equation. Even though cable is the primary medium of viewing, there have still been unbelievable and drastic changes to the industry over the last decade or so.

The first and most obvious change has been in overall picture quality. The biggest change after the addition to color to television has most certainly been the invention of high definition television. Images on the small screen used to be pretty limited, where faces could be made out and recognized, but high definition quality now allows the viewer to make out the smallest of details. This renders the picture almost lifelike in its quality and has certainly changed the television viewing experience.

First introduced in the early 2000’s, it didn’t really make much of a splash because the television sets capable of displaying high definition images were exorbitantly expensive. However, further advances in bandwidth technology eventually enabled networks to broadcast their programs in higher quality and distributors to deliver it. This increased quality has forced networks to focus their attention...
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